Rain last week temporarily boosted critically low Mississippi River levels. But the river is falling again and could still near record lows by month's end.
According to the National Weather Service, the river is currently about 2 feet below normal levels at St. Louis. It has been as much as 4 feet below normal earlier this month, but rose to 1.55 feet below after a couple of days of substantial rain.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Colin Fogarty said he believes it is going to be a long time before the river gets back to normal. He said the Midwest is still in drought conditions that date back to last summer, and long-term forecasts indicate the drought could last several more months.
According to National Weather Service predictions, the river is expected to fall back to 3 feet below normal by Jan. 20, 4 feet below by Jan. 24 and 5 feet below by Jan. 30.
The record low of 6.2 feet below normal at St. Louis was set in 1940.
Leaders in the barge industry have asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release water from upstream to make sure that the Mississippi remains open to navigation.
But Corps spokesman Mike Petersen said he believes that work to dredge the river, as well as recently-completed work to remove rock pinnacles on the river bottom at Thebes, about 125 miles south of St. Louis, is enough to keep the river open to barges even if it reaches the record low.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin has said the federal government continues to monitor the river level and that all options remain in play for keeping the Mississippi open to barge traffic.